July 25, 2018 by Neeraj Gokhale, Model N
Robotic process automation (RPA) — a close cousin of and a first step on the way to AI — is changing the way companies work. Enterprises look to RPA to automate legacy business processes. Instead of replacing human workers, RPA is enabling organizations and employees to focus on uniquely human tasks by eliminating rote, boring tasks that machines do well.
Here we’ll take a look at what RPA is, why CIOs should adopt it and how RPA should be implemented.
What is RPA?
Let’s illustrate RPA by using an example from sales operations. A back-office worker is tasked with populating a CRM system with new leads from a weekend conference. This task involves data transfer and entry into the CRM application, copying over data such as name, phone number, email, and other relevant information. This is a boring and low-intelligence task, but has high-value for the company. This makes it a perfect opportunity for RPA.
The RPA software, or robot, is configured to mimic the data entry process, repeat it and finish the task more quickly and accurately than any human worker could. This frees up time for that employee to focus on areas where the bot is weak: emotional intelligence/judgement and customer interfacing. Unlike AI or machine learning, which can be trained to make judgements based on unstructured data inputs, RPA is strictly rules-based and does not deviate.
Next, let’s examine why an organization should consider adopting RPA. Enterprise deployment can be as simple as an automatic response to an email to hundreds of bots that automate claims processing in a healthcare organization. Organizations have seen up to 200 percent ROI in the first year alone, according to research from London School of Economics.
The benefits extend beyond impressive ROI. Automated processes eliminate the risk of human error, improving an organization’s compliance and overall data integrity. Using RPA to maximize the use of a constrained workforce and increasing employee productivity also provides cost benefits for an organization. 86 percent of companies that have implemented RPA say productivity improvements met or exceeded their expectations. The estimated potential for productivity gains at an organizational level ranges from 10 to 40 percent depending on industry, company size and digital maturity. Allowing employees to work on human tasks also increases customer service and happiness, as workers have more time to respond to specific issues. Furthermore, it increases an organization’s scalability as hundreds of robots can be trained at the same time and deployed only when needed.
Rolling out RPA
RPA projects can be delivered quickly and modularly, enabling companies to start small and experiment.
Let’s look at how an organization should implement RPA. Like any enterprise initiative, it requires aligning systems, processes and people. Below are three key considerations while implementing RPA:
- Establish an RPA management team for oversight and ongoing maintenance
- Review current processes and identify those that can be automated
- Map interdependencies between aspects of your organization to allow RPA to share data
It’s vital to establish a team that will coordinate RPA implementation, so that proper standardization and communication is achieved. If automation efforts are pursued on an ad hoc basis, RPA gains will be limited.
Next, recognize that not every process is ready for automation. If there isn’t a clearly standardized process for a particular task, the robot can’t be programmed to complete the task. Thus, the implementation team must work with the relevant process owners to create a repeatable, programmable process for the task. Finally, establishing an operational framework that identifies data dependencies ensures that the RPA-generated data is automatically disseminated across the company, and the company as a whole, gets the maximum benefits of automation.
Should IT control RPA?
RPA is easy for business process owners to implement because it accesses current systems at the presentation layer. The robots require simple configuration rather than programming, which opens the door for so-called shadow RPA. For CIOs, the situation is similar to shadow IT scenarios, such as user-purchased PCs and mobile phones that caused downstream problems. CIOs and IT should use the same approach now — get involved early and be perceived as an enabler rather than a hindrance. If IT effectively manages the RPA software selection, infrastructure and access management, business process owners can safely apply it for best impact, and the company as a whole will benefit from a consistent, coordinated RPA deployment.
Far from replacing human employees, RPA equips workers with tools that will make their daily activities easier, more engaging, less repetitive and ultimately more valuable. From a business perspective, RPA delivers a strong ROI, improved compliance and leads to happier customers.
Neeraj Gokhale is chief product officer, Model N.